Tuesday, April 08, 2014

162. Romanian director Călin Peter Netzer film “Pozitia copilului” (Child’s Pose) (2013): Selfish nature of relationships

A poster that reveals the structure of the film

Romanian cinema is on the march. In 2005, Romania gave the world the lovely, realistic film The Death of Mr Lazarescu. In 2012, that country followed up with the powerful movie Beyond the Hills, (which scooped up the Best Actress award for the two leading lady thespians in the movie and the best screenplay award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and the Best Film award at the Chicago Film Festival soon after). A year later, yet another fascinating work, Child’s Pose, won the coveted the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival.

The three films are by three different directors but all three have common factors—each of these are critical social essays on life in post-Communist Romania that will resound well with scenarios that are universal. All the three films provide a mighty cinematic punch delivered at the end to make a viewer think and reflect on what preceded the unusual, abrupt end-sequence.  These seemingly abrupt ends are well-crafted to provide an unconventional entertainment for an intelligent viewer.  That is what makes the new Romanian cinema distinct from others—the filmmakers provide you with endings of the narratives that are real enough for the viewer to identify with real situations that they themselves might have experienced in real life, not necessarily in a post-Communist country. And all three films are prisms that exude different colors on the selfish nature of relationships—the relationships of hospital workers towards seemingly anonymous patients in one, the relationships of a dumb but devout Christian priest wanting acceptance of his church and the innocent nuns under his well-meaning care by higher religious authorities after being ignored time and time again, and relationships of a mother clinging to her only progeny and the only individual she has truly controlled and wants to control forever.

"He is a good boy" appeals Cornelia 

In Child’s Pose, the intelligent director Calin Peter Netzer and his talented co-scriptwriter Razvan Radulescu, deal with a 60-year-old mother’s (Cornelia’s) relationship with a grown-up son (Barbu) in his early thirties. In this mother’s case, he happens to be her sole offspring.  Mothers in such situations do tend to be protective to a fault. But Netzer’s film takes the viewer on an unusual study of the relationship, when a perceptive viewer is forced to evaluate the selfishness in all relationships provided in the movie, to levels beyond the mother-son relationship that is so pivotal for this film.

Barbu has accidentally killed a kid on the road while driving his car at a rash speed and Cornelia tries to rescue Barbu from a likely jail term for manslaughter, with all the resources she can muster. Now any mother would do just that. But this film takes the viewer beyond the knee-jerk reaction of a doting, well-placed. architect mother. It’s a mother who loves to control everyone around her--her husband, her son Barbu (even when he is 30-something and ought to be left alone), her son Barbu’s girl friend Carmen, Barbu’s servant maid (when Barbu is not present), her well-connected and influential social and political network, the list goes on and on.  Cornelia’s husband hates her penchant to control him and everyone else and spitefully calls Cornelia, “Controlia.” Cornelia is able to partly achieve this because she is rich, she is well-read to score points in social conversation (she has apparently read the works of recent Nobel Prize winners for literature—Orhan Pamuk and Herta Muller—which she wants her son Barbu to read to improve his own social and intellectual standing) and she is dogged about her unethical purposes in life. Evidently, Pamuk’s and Muller’s writings have not impacted Cornelia in her personal life. Even Carmen’s relationship with Cornelia appears selfish—she hates her but supports her in her effort to help Barbu because she needs Barbu. Barbu, too, does not seem to reciprocate the love of his doting mother; he goes to the extent of rebuking her. A hypochondriac, Barbu, selfishly uses his mother without ever acknowledging her motherly love. He wants to be independent of her but is too much of a coward.

Luminita Gheorghiu as the rich and possessive mother Cornelia

In the second half of the film, the scriptwriters provide two interesting perspectives—one of Cornelia trying to resolve the issues on hand even with a clever show of grief to the mourning family and another of the cowardly Barbu sitting in the car leaving his mother to resolve the issues. The intriguing title of the film in English provides much food for thought. Without disclosing the interesting end of the film, it is without doubt a thoroughly intelligent film with a great screenplay, acting and direction. 

The scriptwriters of this film, as is the case of the other two new wave Romanian films mentioned earlier as well, explore relationships beyond the nuclear family. In Child’s Pose, while the main tale revolves around mother-son-father-and the son’s girlfriend—the scriptwriters compare and contrast this family with that of the killed kid. Of course, there is a contrast in the social status of the two families. The killed boy belongs to the less affluent Romania. It is a family so poor that would find it difficult to pay the costs of the funeral of their son—even Cornelia’s friends in the police suggest that she offer to bear the costs and buy the goodwill of the aggrieved party. In The Death of Mr Lazarescu, the fragile nature of nuclear families is dealt with early in the film as Lazarescu explains that his only progeny, a daughter, has migrated to Canada, his wife is probably dead, while his sister (his only relative left in Romania) is only selfishly  anxious  for the money he sends her from time to time. In Beyond the Hills, the nuclear family is dealt with as an aside to the principal tale of the two orphans. In that film, one of the two orphans is adopted by a nuclear family not out of love for the girl but more for the state’s financial support that comes along with that action.

Cowardly 30-year old Barbu, wanting to break free of a domineering mother

There is an incredible common factor for all the three films—the amazing actress Luminita Gheorghiu who plays personalities diametrically different in Child’s Pose and in The Death of Mr Lazarescu—one personality that is an epitome of money-power and selfishness, and the other that is extremely commendable one of utter unselfishness, caring for a sick, elderly stranger. In Beyond the Hills, she plays the minor role of the foster mother not interested in her ward as much as the pecuniary benefits the adoption offers. Ms Gheorghiu, incidentally,  was picked by Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke to star in his 2000 film Code Unknown: Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys.

There is a resurgence in Romanian cinema after decades of unimpressive works save for occasional gems like Iakob (Jacob) (1988) directed by Mircea Daneliu. The resurgence is essentially because of the outstanding talents of a handful of individuals who have been common factors contributing significantly to it. Leading the pack is Razvan Radulescu, a scriptwriter who contributed to the prominent works The Death of Mr Lazarescu (2005), 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) and now Child’s Pose (2013). Then there is the talented directors Cristi Puiu [who directed The Death of Mr Lazarescu and Aurora (2010)] and Cristian Mungiu (who gave us 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and Beyond the Hills). Finally, there is actress Luminita Gheorghiu who plays the pivotal roles in The Death of Mr Lazarescu, Beyond the Hills, Aurora, and Child’s Pose.  These four individuals appear to be the main drivers of change in the quality of Romanian cinema along with a group of supporting actors and crew who have also lent their hands to this surge of creativity. One wishes that Romanian cinema continues to make such interesting works of art in the future as well. 

P.S.  Child’s Pose is on the author’s list of his the top 10 films of 2013. The two other Romanian films The Death of Mr Lazarescu and Beyond the Hills, mentioned extensively in this review, have been reviewed earlier on this blog